There's something amazing and endearing about watching Flea cry while he talks about how his daughter gave his life real meaning. This is, well, Flea: crazy-good bassist, crazy-crazy rock star, tormenter of Marty McFly. And here he is, openly weeping as he talks about the way his life was enriched by having a kid, and how he learned to grow up in ways he'd never imagined. Such are the charms of The Other F Word, an entertaining, heartfelt, and engaging documentary that recently played the South by Southwest Film Festival. Director Andrea Blaugrund Nevins starts with an interesting hook -- what happens when punk rockers become dads? -- and uses it as a springboard for fascinating looks into the personal lives of some of the biggest names in the genre over the past 30 years.
Although the director covers a lot of ground, the doc is tightly assembled and hangs on a solid central story: the touring life of Jim Lindberg, the lead singer of Pennywise. Although many other punk-rock dads are interviewed in the film, Lindberg's the central character, and the one with whom we experience life on the road. Nevins follows Pennywise on a global tour while occasionally shooting off to talk to other rockers and explore the things that got them where they are today, from absent fathers to rampant partying. She always winds back to Lindberg, though, watching his tour dates rack up and documenting his growing unhappiness at being so far away from his three young daughters.
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The documentary's also a welcome look at what it means to be what Lindberg refers to as a "working class" band, and though the title feels at times a bit misapplied (the dude's house is huge), you understand what he means. He's not in a band that sells out stadiums and moves platinum records and gets Apple sponsorships; he has to tour relentlessly to keep the income flowing and support his family, band members, crew, etc. The life of a real rock star is dirty hotel food, awful airports, and security guards who don't recognize you at the venue you're supposed to play.
The core of the story, though, is the director's exploration of the lives of these men who grew infamous for living like there was no tomorrow and who have now gone totally straight (and happily so) to support their kids. Nevins up-ends the musician stereotypes that tend to pervade rock docs, and though some of the musicians were raised well -- Lindberg had a happy childhood -- many others are still haunted by the way their own fathers ignored or abused them. The interviews with Everclear's Art Alexakis are heartbreaking: He talks quietly and dispassionately about having a father who walked out on him, and how he lived in a rough neighborhood and was raped by older toughs there.
Nevins gets some great material from her subjects, and the film finds a nice tonal balance between more somber moments and the brighter ones that highlight how happy these men have become now that they've turned into the fathers they never thought they'd be. The movie also sports a killer soundtrack (the acoustic version of "Sorrow" is a great moment), and it never gets bogged down, bouncing easily from one subject and singer to the next and back again. The Other F Word is a wonderful look at a group of unconventional dads just trying to do right by their kids, and Nevins does right by them.